Littleneck Clams Steamed in Beer

Littleneck clams steamed in beer and served with melted butter are delicious. Also, I'll explain the best way to clean clams. An intimate clambake is a lot of fun to host at home.

Close-up of cooked, opened clamshells in a bowl with melted butter

How common are clambakes in your area? Currently, they can be found in the region surrounding Cleveland, Ohio.

The Cleveland metropolitan area has the highest clam sales volume in the entire country. S , elsewhere than New England Steamed littlenecks, clam chowder, chicken, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, and a variety of side dishes like coleslaw and mac 'n cheese are staples at any Cleveland clambake.

My husband and I agree that the clams are the most delicious part. He was born and raised in New England, so he has plenty of practice with seafood in the kitchen.

bowl of steamed littleck clams with lemon and melted butter

I'm passing along his instructions for making littleneck clams in beer by steaming them. More than that, I'll tell you how to clean them effectively. Let me give some context first.

A littleneck is what?

Littlenecks are the smallest type of hard-shell clams ("quahogs"), but they have a reputation for having the best flavor. They got their name from Long Island's Little Neck Bay, a popular clamming spot in the past. However, you can find them in great numbers above the Oregon border.  

The littleneck and cherrystone clams are the best raw clams, but I always cook them. (Cherrystones are very much like littlenecks, except that they're a little bigger. ) 

Side view of littleneck clams in a bowl with lemon

Tinyfeet versus steamers

Perhaps you're confused about the distinction between littlenecks and steamers. The shell of a steamer is much softer than that of a littleneck. Also, since soft-shell clams are never eaten raw, cooks often refer to them as "steamers" or "fryers."

Cleaning instructions

The worst thing that can happen at a clambake is for someone to get a mouthful of gritted sand. How to clean littleneck clams

  1. Put some salt in a big bowl of cold water and set it aside. Put the pot next to the sink.
  2. Gently scrub each clam with a brush and a stream of cold water from the faucet to remove any debris.
  3. After cleaning the clams thoroughly, soak them in the salted water for 15 minutes to remove any remaining sand.
  4. Put them in a colander to wash. Put the pot through a quick rinse after draining it.
handful of salt, scrub brush with clam under water, clams soaking and clams being rinsed

5. Refill the container with salt water and let the clams sit in it for another 15 minutes.

To steam clams, step six is to drain and rinse them.

Clams: How to Steam Them

You'll need beer, water, and a bay leaf to make the broth for this dish. The clams are best cooked in a steamer pot, but if you don't have one, follow the cooking instructions in the recipe notes.

overhead view of clams in a steamer pot beside beer, bay leaf and a napkin

If you're cooking for a large group, you might want to look into this seafood pot (affiliate link) rather than using my steamer pot (similar to the one shown).

Fill a pot large enough to accommodate your steamer basket with equal parts beer and water. Drop in the bay leaf, cover, and bring to a boil.

pot of beer broth with bay leaf next to striped napkin

Take the lid off the pot and replace it with the steamer basket full of clams. They are best when steamed until they open wide and then carefully removed with tongs.

While some may open as soon as seven minutes, others may take as long as twenty-five. Discard any that remain closed after that time

Parts that are edible

Your goal should be to extract the meat from the clam shell. The best tool for this job is a small fork (a regular one will do in a pinch), which can be used to poke the meat and pull it out of its shell. To dispose of the shells, have a small bowl on hand for each guest.

Use the cooking beer broth or melted butter with a squeeze of lemon to flavor the clams. You must have some Italian bread to soak up all that juice or melted butter.

bowl of clams in shells with melted butter and lemon

How many clams should I get for each person?

Per person, you'll need a pound of clams (in their shells). About 10–13 littlenecks can be found per pound.  

There should be enough littlenecks in a four-pound bag to feed four people. Be aware that you will inevitably lose some clams if they don't open after being steamed.

I'm hoping you'll try this recipe out now that you know how to make it.


P S Be sure to check out these alternative clam dishes if you're a fan!

  • Pasta with White Wine and Crabmeat
  • A delicious dip made with clams and baked in the oven.
Overhead view of steamed littleneck clams in a bowl with lemon and small dish of melted butter
  • Prepare a large quantity of cold water in a bowl or pot, and add a pinch of salt. Put the kettle in close proximity to the sink.
  • Use a brush to remove any debris from the shells of the clams and a gentle stream of cold water from the faucet.
  • Soaking the cleaned clams in salt water for 15 minutes will help remove any remaining sand.
  • Gather the clams in a colander and pour off the cooking liquid. Put the pot through a quick rinse.
  • Again, add salt to the water and soak the clams for 15 minutes in the pot or bowl.
  • The clams should be steamed after being drained and cleaned.
  • Put the bay leaf, 12 ounces of beer, and 12 ounces of water into a pot that will hold your steamer basket. Do not uncover the pot until it reaches a rolling boil. (If you don't have a steamer basket, refer to the notes.) )
  • Once the broth has come to a boil, put the clams in a steamer basket and drop it into the pot. To check if the clams are opening, cover the pot and let them sit for five minutes. After 7 minutes, some will unlock. For others, the time range is 15-25 minutes, depending on how near the steaming liquid the basket is placed.
  • Turn down the heat if the broth starts to boil over.
  • When a clam opens its shell, you can carefully remove it with kitchen tongs and place it in a bowl. Do not eat any clams that have not opened after steaming for 25 minutes.
  • When ready to serve, pour some of the beer broth into serving bowl(s) to keep the clams warm. To serve, melt the butter in the microwave and pass it around in individual bowls.
  • With a fork, pry the clam loose from the shell; if desired, squeeze some lemon juice on it; then, dip the clam in the melted butter. (If you prefer, you can also soak the clams in the broth.) )
If you don't have a steamer basket, you can still steam the clams by filling a pot halfway with beer and water. Put in the bay leaf and start boiling the mixture. Halfway through the cooking time, add the clams and cover the pot. Wait a few minutes and see if any of them have opened. If a clam opens, discard it. The remaining clams should be cooked as well. Keep in mind that you'll have to throw away any clams that don't open after being steamed. Only three of fifty clams were usable when I made these recently.
Calories: 134 kcal | Carbohydrates: 4 g | Protein: 4 g | Fat: 9 g | In regards to saturated fats: 5 g | Cholesterol: 30 mg | Sodium: 434 mg | Potassium: 35 mg | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 341 IU | Calcium: 19 mg | Iron: 1 mg
Include @cookingwithmammac or #CookingWithMammaC if you post about it.

(Hubby's contribution to Cooking with Mamma C.'s Recipe Box) This article was originally posted on September 22, 2016, and has since been revised with new images and text. )

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